Genghis Khan

You can’t go to Mongolia and not listen to stuff about Genghis Khan. Most of the world knows him as a ruthless tyrant who slaughtered millions of people, significantly reducing populations of countries and kingdoms as his army conquered most of Asia and some of Europe. But to Mongolians he is a God. Not in the religious sense, but as a protector. Its not uncommon to find a picture of him next to those of regular Gods at the altar of a Mongolian home.

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There a quite a few weird things about him. Nobody actually knows what he looked like. That’s because he never had his portrait made in his lifetime. There are many paintings of him floating around now. But all those were done after his death.

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As part of the regular tourist stuff, I visited the Genghis Khan statue, the largest equestrian statue in the world. Its situated east of the capital Ulaanbataar and the statue points to his birthplace which is closeby. You can climb up to the head of the horse and get an amazing view of the surrounding steppes. But for that you need to come out of Genghis Khan’s crotch and walk up the mane of the horse, which feels a little weird. 🙂

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Another weird thing about him is nobody knows where he is buried. One would expect a huge tomb or monument of some sort celebrating someone with such a huge empire. But he ordered to be buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Mongolia.

When I asked my tour guide about his palace was in Mongolia, he just smiled back at me and said, “He didn’t have a palace. He was a nomad like the rest of the people in Mongolia. He had a huge ger which he used to move around the steppes using bulls.” Then he fished out a 1000 tugrik note from his wallet and pointed it to the sketch on it.

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Another thing that didn’t add up was the number of Mongolians in the world at that time (even now for that matter) and the amount of area they controlled. Its not like there were many of them back then and their population dwindled. Apparently, Genghis Khan was a master strategist when it came to the art of warfare. One of the reasons his army won a lot of wars was because the Mongolians had mastered the art of shooting arrows from bows while riding the horse at the same time. So they became a menacing force on the move instead of a force that moved and then needed to be stationary to become menacing.

Genghis Khan used a small pack of horsemen to control a kingdom that was captured or whose king had surrendered. Once his army had done their job, they would leave a small group of horsemen there and move on to the next country or kingdom. Obviously nobody bothered to mess with the horsemen because Genghis Khan was not known to be the pardoning kind. His army would return and kill everybody in the most ruthless way possible. He ruled by fear and not by military numbers.

For someone who ruthlessly massacred people, its quite odd to know that he was the one who introduced the concept of religious tolerance. His laws enforced across his empire ensured religious freedom for all and even gave tax exemptions to religions places.

I found it fascinating to learn that Genghis Khan started the first postal system. It comprised of postal houses where a messenger could rest and switch his tired horse for another one. That way the “postman” would travel more than 300 kms a day. Far slower than the email of today. But I guess that was the fastest way to communicate across such a vast empire.